PMQs Review: Your party's racist. No, YOUR party's racist

PUBLISHED: 14:31 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:06 17 July 2019

Theresa May speaking at her penultimate prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament)

Theresa May speaking at her penultimate prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament)

Parliament

Theresa May's penultimate appearance at PMQs descended into an unseemly squabble with Jeremy Corbyn over whose party is the most racist.

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Theresa May made her penultimate appearance at the despatch box today. Perhaps it's a two-part finale, like the end of Seinfeld, and next week will see a galaxy of characters from her past reappear before she is finally convicted of failing to tackle burning injustices.

Next week's will be different, we know that. Conservative whips are already soliciting valedictory questions from obsequious backbenchers, and we can expect a May quip along the lines of David Cameron's "the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light". But this week's was, even by the low standards of the current two leaders, depressingly poor.

Before we got started, everyone had to congratulate the most recent sports champions - the England cricket team, Lewis Hamilton, best wishes for the home nations sides in the Netball World Cup. When did this become such a thing? Does Hansard show Disraeli passing on his most unfeigned felicitations to the 1876 all-England shove ha'penny winners? It seems to be an increasing contribution to the session ticking ever closer to an hour.

Jeremy Corbyn chose to go in on the topical of the climate crisis, asking why the government had been accused of "coasting" over climate change, to which May replied: "The government has a fine record on climate change, including our recent legislation on net zero emissions.

"But there is an issue that needs to be addressed in this House, and before the right honourable gentleman stands up and parades himself as the champion of climate change or the champion of the people or the defender of equality and fairness, he needs to apologise for his failure to deal with racism in the Labour Party."

Waving a copy of today's Guardian, in which 60 Labour peers have taken out an advert accusing Corbyn of having failed the test of leadership, she called on him to apologise for anti-Semitism in the party.

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Corbyn said there was no place for anti-Semitism "or any other form of racism" in Labour, "and when 60% of Tory Party members think Islam is a threat to Western civilisation, and the prime minister has said she will act on Islamophobia within her own party, I hope she does. I look forward to that being dealt with as we deal with any racism that occurs within our own party as well."

An on it went. May quoted Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as saying "Labour today presents like a textbook case of institutional racism". Corbyn referenced the 'Go Home' vans from May's time as home secretary and said: "I think she might look to her own party and own government's records as well."

It was loud, played well with the dwindling numbers of each leader's backbenchers who still bother to turn up for PMQs, and as heartfelt as their messages to the Netball World Cup squads. Racism accusations as point-scoring - the very worst this session has to offer.

Elsewhere, George Freeman, a former Tory minister who fancies himself as a bit of a Conservative thinker, brought up the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and wondered whether May agreed with him "that Brexit can and must be a moonshot moment for UK science and innovation". May made some noises about how one of the first receptions she hosted in Downing Street was for the astronaut Tim Peake.

Sir Roger Gale, a Tory backbencher who has achieved the notable feat of being an MP for 36 years without anyone noticing, rose to ask if May would, in his final week, "allow herself the luxury of considering that history is likely to treat her captaincy rather more kindly than it will treat those who have campaigned against her". May thanked him. Is she mulling peerages?

Ed Vaizey, another former minister, brought up the number of space companies in his Wantage constituency and invited May to visit to inaugurate "Theresa May Way". He then looked very pleased at how clever he was.

But the moment of the day came from Jeremy Lefroy, an obscure Tory MP for Stafford. who last week had "the honour of visiting the world's best transformer factory", conjuring up images of giant robots taking over and putting us all out of our misery. "Would my right honourable friend congratulate me...". And the House roared at his slip of the tongue.

Yes, bring on the giant robots. I for one welcome our new Decepticon overlords.

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